THE government will not give away a single inch of Philippine territory to China, and should not seriously take President Rodrigo Duterte’s joke to make the country a province of China, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Tuesday.
“It was obvious that the President was just trying to crack a joke in front of Filipino-Chinese businessman. You know, it’s just to emphasize that it’s ours but we’re one with China,” the presidential spokesperson said, referring to Kagitingan Reef in the South China Sea and the Philippine Rise east of Luzon.
He said Chinese officials sometimes do the same thing by exaggerating their messages that they own the disputed area.
However, Roque said that the President was very clear. “We will not give away even a single inch of our territory,” he said.
Roque said President Duterte also ordered the strengthening of law enforcement in Philippine Rise and other territorial waters , stating that the Philippines has the responsibility to oversee and regulate the ships of other countries that sail the waters of Philippine territory.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas supports the Philippines claim in all the disputed areas in the South China Sea.
“Take it in that spirit. But he was very firm that we have title over the disputed area in West Philippine Sea, and we have rights in Benham—exclusive rights in Philippine Rise,” Roque said, slipping back to the name given to the area by American surveyors who discovered the geological feature.
But Roque appealed to Filipinos to call the region Philippine Rise and to stop referring to it as Benham Rise.
“The President will get mad. He has cast away the name given by the Americans,” Roque said in Filipino.
The Palace spokesman also said the President’s joke was aimed at Filipinos only.
“We are trying to drum beat that there was no dispute in the region. The Philippine Rise belongs to the Filipino,” Roque said.
He said the Philippines has sovereign rights to explore and exploit the natural resources found in the Philippine Rise.
A constant critic of Duterte’s foreign policy, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio on Monday night said the Philippines cannot assert an international tribunal’s favorable ruling on its territorial dispute with China while borrowing billions of dollars from the Asian power.
“How will we assert the tribunal’s ruling in our favor if we are borrowing from China? If China is our biggest creditor, how can we tell China ‘please comply with the ruling?’” Carpio said in an interview on a public affairs program on GMA-7.
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